BOSTON — The maker of OxyContin is taking its fight against hundreds of lawsuits by U.S. cities, including Lynn, Peabody, and Revere, to the public.
In a full-page ad in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, Purdue Pharma, the privately-held pharmaceutical company with $3 billion in revenues last year, said it is already working to cure the crisis.
“While opioid pain medications can help patients with acute and chronic pain when other treatments are inadequate, we are aware of the risks opioid pain medicines can create … they carry risks of addiction abuse … that can lead to overdose and death,” the ad read. “Earlier this year, we ended our practice of promoting opioid medications through sales representatives.”
The color ad, which cost $277,200, according to the Wall Street Journal’s no-contract rate card, comes as the Connecticut-based company is fighting lawsuits from Massachusetts and 18 other states. Nearly 500 separate suits by U.S. cities, including three on the North Shore, have been consolidated in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, Ohio.
The defendants include Purdue, Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Par Pharmaceutical, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal HealthCare Co. and McKesson Corp.
The cities and states allege the companies pushed highly addictive, dangerous opioids, falsely telling doctors that patients would rarely get addicted to the drugs; that firms violated the federal Controlled Substances Act which requires vendors to report suspicious activity in the size and frequency of opioid shipments to pharmacies and hospitals.
In the ad, Purdue outlined five measures it has taken to ease the opioid crisis:
- Limit opioid prescriptions to seven days.
- Advocate prescribers and pharmacists consult state databases which track controlled substances before writing or dispensing prescriptions.
- Encourage electronic prescriptions to reduce misuse.
- Urge safer storage of opioids.
- Support school-based prevention programs.
The suit names the giant pharmacies, alleging they were reckless in distributing medications that contributed to the opioid crisis.
Cities and states are seeking an unspecified amount of money damages for past costs of law enforcement; needle exchanges; Narcan, a medication used to block the effects of opioids, especially in overdose cases; emergency medical services, and future damages for the foreseeable expenditures of taxpayer dollars for treatment, education, and prevention.
The pharmaceutical firms have denied wrongdoing, noting they sell drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They blame doctors who prescribe the drugs, pharmacies that fill them, and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration for not doing enough to oversee sales of legally-controlled substances.
The Healthcare Distribution Alliance, an umbrella group for drug distributors, said in a statement accusations that distributors were responsible for the abuse of opioid prescriptions defied common sense and lacked understanding of the pharmaceutical supply chain.
The large pharmacy chains say the real culprits are the drug dealers, and ask why hundreds of cities and counties are suing them over the opioid crisis instead of pursuing the criminals who pushed drugs to addicts.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who is overseeing the consolidated litigation, has been pushing for a global settlement. The Massachusetts lawsuit filed by Attorney General Maura Healey went a step further by also naming 16 current or former Purdue executives and board members as defendants, including members of the Sackler family, which owns the company.
“Their strategy was simple,” Healey said at a news conference when the suit was filed earlier this year. “The more drugs they sold, the more money they made, and the more people died.”
Material from Reuters was used in this report. Thomas Grillo can be reached at [email protected]